Just look at this
wonderful painting title “Oath of the Horatii” (1784) (129.8 in × 167.2 in) (De
Nanteuil, 1966). It was painted in the late 18th century by a French
artist named Jacques-Louis David and is currently located at Louvre Museum,
Paris. Originally, however, it was painted in the great city of Rome. So, it is
obvious that the subject is based on a Roman legend. Once there were two cities
at war with each other Rome and Alba Longa. Instead of exposing many to death
it was agreed upon that three men from each city belonging to two families,
would fight and decide the issue. From Rome came forward three brothers from
the Horatii family. However, in Paris today, such legends hold little meaning.
For the audience of Paris, this form of art belonged to the Neo-classical
period when the mood was on simplicity and symmetry. The oath incident was not
there in the legend as such but the painter has emphasized it to uphold and
highlight the values of that period.
However, the impact of
the painting in Rome at the time in which it was made on the content of a work
of art was great. The painting underpins the act of making a promise. The three
brothers promised to their father victory for Rome even if it meant death; it
was a do or die moment. This sternness has been underlined by the straight
lines of brothers in a row with their arms outstretched in a line. The swords
however are not all straight indicating that all would not survive the ordeal.
The father is no less determined in the manner in which he is handing over the
swords to his sons knowing that they would be courting death. From the painting
you can understand how much they valued patriotism, loyalty and promises. The
straight lines of the men effuse strength. Emotion displayed by the women can
be contrasted with the grim determination of the men. The painting talks about
ideals and principles – it instantly hits the viewer. Does it not?
characteristics of the painting are wonderful. The color effect is awesome. For
instance red is splashed on the robe of the father and the son who is n the
foreground. Red can be taken to represent both bloodshed and victory. One of
the three brothers survives the ordeal and the painter indicates the soldier in
front. The father courts death for his sons for the sake of the country. The
colours of the robes of the other two brothers are muted and hardly noticeable.
The second brother’s arm is around the waist of the first one indicating their
unity and oneness – three for one and one for three. The third women in the
background is all in black as she is suffering the most living up to the
immediate crisis while tending to innocent lively children.
Jacques-Louis David (1748 –1825) was French by nationality and most of his
works are in the style of Neoclassical (De Nanteuil, 1966). He is one of the
most influential painters of the period. The influence of the painting has been
strengthened through contrast. Notice that the background is dark and obscure
so that the attention of the viewer is focused on the front of the painting.
One side are the determined men and on the other weeping women. Then the dark
background highlights the frontal section. The straightness of the men become
more prominent when contrasted with the bent form of the women. The walls and
slabs on the floor are straight. The children add to the differences between
the ages and the involvement of adults in serious matters. Also note the play
on number three – three brothers, three swords, three arms and the three
women. The overlapping of the swords also contrasts with sharpness in
front and gives the effect of movement in a frozen frame. The men seemed
stoical while the women are resigned. Two orders are superimposed upon – the
figures and the décor.